The Lancaster County Commissioners voted in favor of expanding coronavirus testing to certain asymptomatic individuals Wednesday, after a debate over who exactly who decide who gets tested.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the commissioners also voted to give $8 million in COVID-19 relief funds to a variety of Lancaster county organizations, including emergency medical services providers.
In May, the county and Lancaster General Health reached a $24.7 million agreement, using funds from the April federal coronavirus relief act, for Lancaster General Health to test up to 1,000 cases per day as well as perform contact tracing. But on average, the hospital has been performing about half that, Commissioner Josh Parsons noted Tuesday.
Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief clinical officer with Lancaster General Health, said the new agreement was intentionally broad to allow for the shifting nature of the pandemic, but that decisions on which asymptomatic individuals would be tested would be guided by “a medically driven protocol.”
Example he cited were individuals going to a state that might require negative tests to enter, or individuals coming back from hotspot states,
Democratic Commissioner Craig Lehman expressed reservation about language in the agreement he felt would enable political leadership to make decisions on who tests are available to based on what “sound good politically,” rather than medical experts making the decision.
“Lancaster County does not have any public health capacity in county government,” Lehman said, referring to a lack of a public health department. “So basically what this allows for is politicians to make recommendations on whether or not there is or isn’t going to be asymptomatic testing. I don’t want that. I don’t care if that ruffles peoples’ feathers.”
After receiving assurances from his Republican colleagues, Ripchinski and county solicitor Chris Hausner that any county request for additional testing would be predicated on Lancaster General Health determining there was “a medically driven protocol” and that politicians could not unilaterally direct testing, he voted in favor.
In other news related to use of funds from the April federal coronavirus relief act, from which the county received $95 million, the commissioners voted in favor of disbursing $8 million between local municipalities, school districts, emergency services and libraries.
Disbursements include $461,265 to 13 area libraries for PPE, supplies and equipment; $3.5 million for 16 Lancaster school district and the IU13 center for purchase of PPE; $2.75 million between Lancaster’s 60 municipalities for COVID-19 expenses; and $1,365,000 for fire and EMS groups to offset COVID-19 costs or revenue loss.